Archive for the ‘1955’ Category

Saturday Single No. 498

Saturday, May 28th, 2016

Today was supposed to be the day to finish off the planting for this year’s gardening adventure. In the last couple weeks, the Texas Gal – with my help – has laid down weed-blocking cloth in the larger garden in our side yard and in the smaller plot we’ve claimed in the community garden just on the other side of the copse. And since then, she’s gotten most of the planting done.

There seem to be fewer gardeners from the adjacent apartment complex joining us in the community garden this year. Much of the space there has begun to devolve to weeds in the weeks since it was tilled. Our space did the same until this week when we finally fenced it, the Texas Gal cleared it, and we laid down the weed blocker. That’s where she’ll plant green beans – and perhaps wax beans – this year.

That means the tomatoes will be in the side yard this year, a change from garden seasons past. A malady called “blossom end rot” has taken perhaps forty percent of our tomatoes the past couple of years in the community garden. We got six tomato plants the other day, and they’re already in place; a space in the side-yard garden awaits about twelve more or so that the Texas Gal is growing from seed. Those are almost big enough to transplant into that space.

There, in the side-yard garden, the tomatoes will join cucumbers, zucchini, yellow squash, bok choy, celery, kohlrabi, red and green cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and a few peppers (with peas and onions in some nearby raised beds). But that will have to wait a while. It rained all day yesterday and the ground is too wet to transplant the tomatoes or to plant the beans.

And it’s supposed to resume raining at about five o’clock this afternoon and rain into the evening, making it unlikely that things will be dry enough for planting tomorrow. Well, Monday is supposed to be sunny, and there are worse ways to spend Memorial Day than planting tomatoes and beans.

But today, we’ll stay in and stay dry (except for, perhaps, an excursion to the local mall this afternoon to window-shop and people-watch). And, digging deep into the mp3 shelves, I found a suitable piece of music for the day. In the 1950s and 1960s, actor Jackie Gleason issued a series of orchestral albums that fit right into the easy listening trends of the time. Here, from his 1955 album Lonesome Echo, is “A Garden In The Rain,” and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Six At Random

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

We’re going to put the cursor about in the middle of the 78,829 mp3s in the RealPlayer and see where we go on a random six-track trip. Here we go!

First up is “When She Loves Me” from the 1977 album Mama Let Him Play by the Canadian musician Jerry Doucette. It’s a sweet tune, and I wouldn’t have known it or anything about Doucette without the help of my blogging pal jb, who hangs out at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’. He asked me one morning if I had Doucette’s album, needing – I think – the title track. I didn’t, so I went and found it in the wilds of the Internet. It’s a decent late Seventies album, offering kind of a Canadian version of Pablo Cruise, and it got to No. 159 on the Billboard 200. I don’t often seek the album out, but when a track from it pops up on random, I hum along.

From there, we move back to 1957 and “Love Roller Coaster” by Big Joe Turner. “I ain’t never comin’ down to earth,” he sings. “I’m gonna stay up high, long as I’m up here with you.” The record wasn’t one of Turner’s greatest hits, and it came near the end of his charting days – it was the next-to-last record he placed in the R&B Top 40 – but it got to No. 12, and it sounds pretty much like a Big Joe Turner joint. In other words, you know what you’re gonna get when the record starts, and when it ends, you’re not disappointed.

Coldplay first came to my attention in 2001 when “Yellow” showed up on the playlist of Twin Cities radio station Cities 97. I remember looking askance at the radio the first time I heard it, wincing at some of the lyrics, which seemed not so much haunting (which I think was the goal) as vague. But “Yellow” brought Coldplay to my attention, which is good, as I’ve liked a fair amount of the band’s work since then. I know there are many who detest the band, and I don’t quite get that. But then, there’s a lot of stuff I don’t get, so I don’t spend much time worrying about Coldplay haters.

I paid no attention to T. Rex back in the day, except that there was no way anyone could ignore “Bang A Gong (Get It On)” during early 1972. But I missed out on everything else the band did, including “Jeepster” from 1971’s Electric Warrior album. The record went to No. 2 in the U.K. but was not released as a U.S. single. I’m not entirely sure what “Girl, I’m just a Jeepster for your love” means, but the track is catchy. And it’s very similar to Howlin’ Wolf’s 1962 single “You’ll Be Mine.” Wikipedia notes that T. Rex’s Marc Bolan acknowledged of “Jeepster” that he “lifted it from a Howlin’ Wolf song.” (Regular reader Yah Shure has since told me that “Jeepster” was in fact released as a single in the U.S., though it did not chart. My source for my statement was The Great Rock Discography, another volume that I have either misread or whose data I must now salt liberally.)

The late Larry Jon Wilson has showed up in these pages a few times, and I’m glad to see him pop up today as we wander randomly. “Loose Change” is a panhandler’s tale, the title track from Wilson’s 1977 album, and he tells the tale as he seemingly always does, with affection, with respect, and with an acute eye for detail. He released five albums – four in the 1970s and one in 2008 – and every one of them is a quiet gem. And as I write this morning, I feel as if I should listen to his music more than I do, because every time Wilson’s music pops up randomly, I’m drawn into it by his craft and his warm voice.

Among my musical idiosyncrasies is an affection for the music of Julie London, the 1950s and 1960s chanteuse who’s perhaps known for two things: her 1955 recording of “Cry Me A River” and her role as nurse Dixie McCall in the 1970s police drama Emergency! Today’s random jaunt brings up London’s performance of “I’m Glad There Is You” from her 1955 album Julie Is Her Name. It’s a quiet track, maybe not among her best, but if you want to know what the adults were listening to in 1955, it’s a pretty good example.

‘That Big Eight-Wheeler . . .’

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

So what other covers did I run across this week as I dug into Hank Snow’s 1950 classic song “I’m Movin’ On”? Well, using the list at Second Hand Songs and the list of performers available at BMI, I found a bunch that I thought were interesting and a couple that I really liked.

My favorite? Well, that can wait for a bit, but second place goes to the version that Leon Russell released in 1984 recording as his alter ego, Hank Wilson. Here’s that rollicking cover, from Hank Wilson Vol. II.

As I dug, I was particularly interested in giving a listen to the first cover listed at SHS, a performance by Hoagy Carmichael, but I think that’s an error, maybe a different song with the same (or a similar) title, as Carmichael is not included in the BMI list of performers who’ve recorded the song. Given that, it seems – and I’m not at all certain, as the BMI listings don’t include dates – that the first cover of “I’m Movin’ On” came in 1955 from Les Paul and Mary Ford.

In 1961, a rockabilly musician named Dick Hiorns – whose resume included a couple of daily performances during the early 1950s on WBAY in Green Bay, Wisconsin – recorded a version of Snow’s song for the Cuca Record Company of Sauk City, Wisconsin. A year later, Jerry Reed – at the time a session guitarist in Nashville – teamed up with some background singers who were called the Hully Girlies for a version of Snow’s tune, and a few years after that, in 1965, the Rolling Stones took on the tune and released it on the EP Got Live If You Want It!

Genius organist Jimmy Smith took a whack at the tune in 1967, and two years later, Elvis Presley included it on his From Elvis in Memphis album. In 1978, New Orleans’ Professor Longhair (aka Henry Byrd) took Snow’s song, altered the verses and made it into a Crescent City shuffle. It’s included on Big Chief, a 1993 Rhino album. (And I have no idea if the fourteen tracks on Big Chief were released during the intervening fifteen years).

There were others, of course: Versions that I didn’t track down or that didn’t grab me came from, among other, Del Reeves, Clyde McPhatter, Timi Yuro, Connie Francis, Johnny Nash, Burl Ives, the Box Tops, Sammy Kershaw, George Thorogood & The Destroyers, Mickey Gilley, Loggins & Messina and Jimmie Dale Gilmore.

But after all of that, I think my favorite cover of Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On” that I found this week was actually a rediscovery. Rosanne Cash included the tune on her 2009 CD The List, an album of songs pulled from a list her famous father once gave her of essential American music. I’ve often thought that too many versions of the song – Snow’s included – have sounded almost celebratory. Not Cash’s. She pulls the tempo back, and amid a nest of atmospheric guitars and percussion, she makes the song something closer to a dirge, and that fits.

Peaking At No. 2 . . .

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

One of the quirkier books on my music reference shelf is the Billboard Book of No. 2 Singles, a volume by Christopher G. Feldman that was published in 2000. It gathers together chart data and brief essays on the 400 or so records that peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard pop chart between 1955 and 1999.*

The singles thus highlighted go from “Melody of Love” by Billy Vaughn & His Orchestra, which was No. 2 for one week in March 1955 and was blocked from the top spot by the McGuire Sister’s “Sincerely” all the way to “Back At One” by Brian McKnight (and boy, that’s an unsettling video), which was No. 2 for eight weeks in late 1999 and early 2000 but was blocked from No. 1 by the Santana/Rob Thomas single “Smooth.”

(The number “400” is an estimate; I was hoping that somewhere in the book Feldman would list the total, but if he did, I can’t spot it this morning. And yes, there’s been a lot of music out since 2000, and an update would be nice, but the book nevertheless covers the years in which I’m most interested.)

I wondered which years had the most records that peaked at No. 2, wondering as well if calculating that would show any sort of pattern. If there is a pattern, I imagine that finding it would take more time and analysis than I’ve going to devote to it this morning. But here are the years when there were more than ten records that peaked at No. 2.

1958: 12
1959: 13
1963: 11
1966: 13
1967: 13
1968: 14
1969: 16
1972: 12
1973: 12
1986: 11
1987: 11
1988: 11
1989: 14
1990: 14

I looked at the No. 1 records from 1969 to see if there were any juggernauts there, and there were: In the spring, the 5th Dimension’s “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In” was No. 1 for six weeks, followed immediately by the Beatles’ “Get Back,” which was No. 1 for five weeks. And that summer, Zager & Evans’ “In The Year 2525” took over the top spot for six weeks. Those three records blocked six other singles from the top spot.

It might be interesting to carefully scan Feldman’s book to see which No. 1 hit blocked more records from the top spot than any other. I’m not going to take the time to do that, at least not today, but I played some hunches: In 1960, Percy Faith’s “Theme From A Summer Place” was No. 1 for nine weeks and blocked five other records from the top spot. In 1977, Debby Boone’s “You Light Up My Life” was No. 1 for ten weeks and blocked four other records from the top spot. In 1981, Kim Carnes’ “Bette Davis Eyes” and Diana Ross’ “Endless Love” were both No. 1 for nine weeks and both blocked three other records from No. 1. And in 1968, the Beatles’ “Hey Jude” was No. 1 for nine weeks and blocked three other singles from the top spot.

And as there are with most books of this ilk, there are lists in the back: Through 1999 (and these may have changed, of course), the artist with the most No. 2 hits was Madonna with six, and the honor of having the most No. 2 hits without ever reaching No. 1 went to Creedence Clearwater Revival, which hit No. 2 five times.

And three groups hit No. 2 with three consecutive records:

Blood, Sweat & Tears with “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” “Spinning Wheel” and “And When I Die.”

The Carpenters with “Rainy Days & Mondays,” “Superstar” and “Hurting Each Other.”

CCR with “Proud Mary,” “Bad Moon Rising” and “Green River.”

To end this, I thought I’d go to the middle of the book and find a No. 2 single to highlight. The book is 288 pages, and the first entry on Page 144 is Eddie Kendricks’ “Boogie Down,” which was No. 2 for two weeks in March 1974. In a horrible miscarriage of radio justice, Kendricks’ record was blocked from the top spot by Terry Jacks’ “Seasons In The Sun.”

)

*At the time that the first twenty-nine entries in his book were charting, Feldman notes, Billboard issued a number of weekly charts; he used the Best Sellers in Stores chart for those entries, and for the entries from August 4, 1958 on, he used the Billboard Hot 100.

Saturday Single No. 357

Saturday, September 14th, 2013

Sometimes these singles for a Saturday morning reflect an idea I’m already mulling as I scan the listings. Sometimes that scanning gives me an idea. And sometimes, especially when I’m checking recording dates, the title of one of the classic singles simply says “It’s my time!”

And so it is with a single from New Orleans recorded fifty-eight years ago today.

Seeking his first hit, Little Richard went into a session for Specialty Records on September 14, 1955, according to Wikipedia. The session brought together in Cosimo Matassa’s J & M Studio some folks whose names are now legendary: Producer Bumps Blackwell with Lee Allen and Alvin “Red” Tyler on saxophones, Frank Fields on guitar and Earl Palmer on drums.

But Wikipedia notes that “as the session wore on, Little Richard’s anarchic performance style was not being fully captured on tape. In frustration during a lunch break, he started pounding a piano and singing a ribald song that he had written and had been performing live for a few years.” He sang:

A-wop-bom-a-loo-mop-a-lomp-bom-bom!! Tutti Frutti, good booty . . .

Blackwell called in songwriter Dorothy LaBostrie to clean up the song’s earthy lyrics*, and three takes of the song were laid down in about fifteen minutes that day. Released as Specialty 561, the record was No. 2 for six weeks on the Billboard R&B chart and went to No. 17 on the Billboard pop chart.

Wikipedia further notes:

In 2007, an eclectic panel of renowned recording artists voted “Tutti Frutti” number 1 on Mojo’s The Top 100 Records That Changed The World, hailing the recording as “the sound of the birth of rock and roll.” In 2010, the US Library of Congress National Recording Registry added the recording to its registry, claiming the “unique vocalizing over the irresistible beat announced a new era in music.” In April 2012, Rolling Stone magazine declared that the song “still contains what has to be considered the most inspired rock lyric ever recorded: ‘A-wop-bom-a-loo-mop-a-lomp-bom-bom!!’”

And all of that is why Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti” is today’s Saturday Single.

*Wikipedia says: “In addition to Penniman and LaBostrie, a third name – Lubin – is credited as co-writer. Some sources considered this to be a pseudonym used by Specialty label owner Art Rupe to claim royalties on some of his label’s songs, but others refer to songwriter Joe Lubin. Songwriter LaBostrie was quoted as saying that ‘Little Richard didn’t write none of “Tutti Frutti”.’”

‘Red’

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

Having brought the March of the Integers through ten steps (and not seeing a search for ‘Eleven” offer much of a return), I’ve been pondering what other ways there might be to sort the nearly 69,000 tunes in the RealPlayer that would provide interesting cross-sections of what is a wide range of music.

And then I dropped Dark Side of the Moon into the upstairs CD player late one evening. As the heartbeat faded in to start the epic album’s first track, “Speak To Me,” I looked idly at the iconic album cover with its prism. And I thought, “The spectrum. Sort titles by color.”

So this is the first of nine planned posts in a series that my pals Odd and Pop insist on calling “Floyd’s Prism.” Nine? Yes, because we plan on covering the seven colors of the spectrum – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet – and then adding black and white.

Here we go with “Red.”

Our search through the mp3 shelves brings up 1,878 files, most of which we’ll not be able to use. We discard immediately anything performed or conducted by anyone named “Alfred,” which eliminates the Philharmonia Slavonica performances of two symphonies by Robert Schumann (Alfred Scholz conducting),  Alfred Newman’s soundtrack to the 1962 movie How The West Was Won, the 1929 plaint by Blind Alfred Reed, “How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?” (revived in recent years by Bruce Springsteen) and Alfred Lewis’ whooping and harmonica-honking take on “Mississippi Swamp Moan” from 1930.

Numerous other artists that pop up in the search are set aside (unless further search finds in their catalog a title with “red” in it): bluesman Tampa Red; Don Redman & His Orchestra (with the oddly titled 1931 single “Chant of the Weed’); Mississippi Fred McDowell (many tracks including the great soliloquy “I Do No Play No Rock ’N’ Roll”); an early 1970s band, Fred, that released, from what I’ve been able to tell, one self-titled album between 1971 and 1973; and Fred Astaire, Fred Hughes, Fred Hess, Fred Neil (who wrote “The Dolphins” and “Everybody’s Talkin’”); Fred Wesley & The Horny Horns; Freddie King, Freda Payne and a few more.

Albums take a hit, too. We lose most tracks off numerous albums, including Basil Poledouris’ soundtrack to the 1990 movie, The Hunt for Red October, Brooks & Dunn’s Red Dirt Road, Bob Dylan’s Under the Red Sky, Chris Rea’s Wired to the Moon, Chris Thomas King’s Red Mud, Dan Fogelberg’s Captured Angel, Jane Bunnett’s Red Dragonfly, Jefferson Starship’s Red Octopus and Jimmy McGriff’s Red Beans.

Individual titles go, too. Among them: “My Days Are Numbered” by the Bad Habits, “Blistered Heart” by Badly Drawn Boy, versions of “I’m So Tired” by the Beatles and Billy Preston, “Rip Her To Shreds” by Blondie, “Blues for Big Fred” by Richard “Groove” Holmes, “High Powered Love” by Emmylou Harris, “The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game” by the Marvelettes, three versions of Dylan’s “Nothing Was Delivered,” five versions of the standard, “It Never Entered My Mind,” and – as we close this section to keep it somewhat under control – Keld Heick’s Danish tune, “Jeg Ringer På Fredag” (which translates to “I’ll Call You On Friday”) and a track titled “Es Redzeju Jurina” from the album Beyond The River: Seasonal Songs of Latvia.

There are, however, many recordings with “red” in their titles, and as we select six this morning, we’ll no doubt miss some good ones.

Before Muddy Waters found his way in 1947 to the Aristocrat and Chess labels in Chicago, he recorded for Columbia. The label, along with other major labels, was struggling with change, according to the notes in the British-issued box set Chicago Is Just That Way: “The major companies . . . retained such a hidebound attitude toward their product that younger artists coming forward, like Johnny Shines and Muddy Waters, seemed to be beyond their comprehension.” Waters recorded several sides for Columbia, mostly with only his slide guitar as accompaniment. But in 1946, he recorded “Mean Red Spider” with a band, and then Columbia for some reason released the record under the name of James “Sweet Lucy” Carter.

The entry for Billy “The Kid” Emerson at Wikipedia tells an interesting story: “William Robert Emerson, known during his recording career as Billy ‘The Kid’ Emerson and more recently as Rev. William R. Emerson . . . is an African American preacher and former R&B and rock and roll singer and songwriter, best known for his 1955 song, ‘Red Hot’.”  We may dig into that story more in the future, but for today, “Red Hot” is where our interest lies. Emerson wrote the song after hearing a football cheer, “Our team is red hot . . .” and recorded it on May 31, 1955, at the Sun studios in Memphis. It was released as Sun 219 but it failed to chart. (The better-known version is probably the 1957 cover by Billy Lee Riley; versions by Sam the Sham & The Pharaohs and by Robert Gordon with Link Wray made the lower portions of the Billboard Hot 100 in 1966 and 1977, respectively.)

Teach a monkey to play poker, and you’re asking for trouble. That’s the surface moral in “Run Red Run” by the Coasters. The fanciful tale of a monkey who turns on its owner for cheating at cards came from the minds of songwriting geniuses Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. It’s one of the Coasters’ lesser-known hits today, but it has everything a Coasters fan would need: A good if fanciful story, great vocals (including the classic “boogetty boogetty boogetty boogetty” behind the chorus) and two sax solos that are almost certainly by King Curtis. The 1959 record went to No. 36 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 29 on the R&B chart. I especially like the mention in the final verse of the “brand new Stetson hat,” which has to be a clear reference to “Stagger Lee,” which Lloyd Price had taken to No. 1 in early 1959.

Another record that tends to get lost, I think, is “Red Red Wine” by Neil Diamond, overtaken by both the more popular hits in his vast catalog and by the two 1988 covers of the song by the English reggae group, UB40. The standard version by UB40 went to No. 34 in the U.S., and the version with a rap by Astro went to No. 1. There’s no doubt that UB40 reinvented the song memorably, and it’s true that Diamond’s original went only as high as No. 62. But Diamond’s 1968 version is worth a listen, too, either to examine the source of the later hit or just to hear a good record.

I have no idea who was in the group Kansas City, which released “Red Tower Road” as a single on the Trump label in 1970. I got the record as part of the Lost Jukebox series, and all I know from the barebones index I’ve found and from looking at the single’s label online is that the record was produced by the well-known and highly regarded Tommy Cogbill. (The video I found notes the involvement as well of Chips Moman, but a quick search this morning leaves me uncertain as to his ties to the record, although I could guess that it was recorded at Moman’s studio in Memphis.) According to one website, “Red Tower Road” was the B-side to “Linda Was A Lady,” but to my ears, it was good enough to be an A-side.

So what’s our last stop? “Red Dirt Boogie, Brother” by Jesse Ed Davis” “Red Hot Chicken” by Wet Willie? “Rusty Red Armour” by Vinegar Joe? Well, having visited one keyboard genius earlier this week in Richard “Groove” Holmes, it only seems right that we pick up on a chance to listen to “Red Beans” by Jimmy McGriff. It’s the title track of the earlier mentioned 1976 album, and although there’s not as much keyboard in the track as one might like, it’s still a sweet workout for a Thursday.

‘And A Thousand Violins Begin To Play . . .’

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

The other afternoon, the Seventies music channel provided the background as I dozed for a while on the couch. I kept the volume low, but every once in a while, I’d wake up and listen for a moment, just to see how deeply into the decade the channel digs. (Not very deeply, generally.)

At one point, when I raised my awareness, I heard Roberta Flack: “The first time . . . ever I saw your face . . .” I went back to sleep, and as I did, a connection flickered between a movie and Flack’s record, which spent six weeks during the spring of 1972 at No. 1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and Adult Contemporary chart (and went to No. 4 on the R&B chart). And as the song ended and the music shifted to something from 1979, I went back to sleep, remembering the connection.

The movie was Play Misty For Me, the tale of a late-night jazz disc jockey and a fan who regularly requests the classic Erroll Garner record “Misty.” Over the course of the movie, the fan goes from devoted listener to lover to demented slasher. The film, directed by Clint Eastwood – who plays the disc jockey – was the destination in late 1971 for the first date I had with my first college girlfriend. And it was the first time I’d ever heard of the classic tune “Misty.”

The tune was written by Garner (with lyrics added later by Johnny Burke) and was first recorded by the Erroll Garner Trio and released as a single in 1955:

Shortly after learning about the tune, I came across it in a guitar book I was using as a fake book for piano, and I began to put together my own arrangement. I tried several approaches, ranging from slow minimalism to a bouncy trip, sometimes decorating the tune with some added sixth and major seventh chords, but I never felt at home with the song, and quit playing it. It might have helped, I suppose, if I had ever sought out and listened to the numerous versions of the song that were available on record, but I never thought of that. And the next time I heard the song was a few years later when I heard what Doc Severinsen and Henry Mancini had done with “Misty” on their 1972 album Brass on Ivory.

That cover remains one of my favorites in a list that stretches back to a 1955 cover version by jazz pianist Johnny Costa. The list of covers offered at Second Hand Songs (not necessarily a complete list, but likely pretty good) starts there and goes on to the 2010 cover by the Sachal Studios Orchestra that includes traditional Indian instruments and a 2011 version by singer Michael Ball. Some of the more interesting names among the earlier instrumentals on that list are Toots Thielemans, King Curtis, Buddy Rich, Cal Tjader, Earl “Fatha” Hines and Stephane Grapelli.

When it comes to vocal covers, the list includes the performance that a lot of people might think is the essential version of “Misty,” the 1959 cover by Johnny Mathis that went to No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 10 on the R&B chart. Other noted names who’ve done vocal covers include Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald, Julie London, Keely Smith, Frank Sinatra, Marty Robbins, Lesley Gore, Aretha Franklin, Donny Hathaway, Timi Yuro and more. Not being very conversant with current jazz, either instrumental of vocal, I don’t recognize a lot of the names post-1980.

As to charting versions on or near the Hot 100, they came from Mathis, Sarah Vaughan, Lloyd Price, the Vibrations, Richard “Groove” Holmes and Ray Stevens. Of those versions, neither Vaughan’s standard 1959 vocal (No. 106 on the pop chart) nor Price’s 1963 big band version (No. 21 pop and No. 11 R&B) grab me much.

I didn’t care much for the twangy countrified version that came from Ray Stevens in 1975; I like it better now, but it’s never going to be my favorite version of the song. Other folks liked it well enough, though, as it went to No. 14 on the pop chart, No. 3 on the country chart and No. 8 on the AC chart.

The least familiar name among those that hit the charts with “Misty” is likely that of the Vibrations, a Los Angeles R&B group. I do like the classic R&B sound they brought to “Misty” in 1965 when their version went to No. 63 on the Hot 100 and to No. 26 on the R&B chart.

Next to Stevens’ version, jazz organist Holmes’ 1966 take on the classic tune did the best on the charts, going to No. 44 in the Hot 100, to No. 12 on the R&B chart and to No. 7 on the AC chart. Not long ago, I lucked into a collection of Holmes’ work, and I’ve been digging through that. While I won’t say that his take on “Misty” is my favorite – I tend to lean to Mathis’ classic performance – it’s awfully good.

Instrumental Digging: 1950-1999

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

We continue today seeking the answer to a question sparked by our digging into instrumental music the other week: Which instrumentals ranked highest in the year-end listings in each of the decades of the 1900s? I looked at the years 1900-1949 late last week. Today, we’ll return to Joel Whitburn’s A Century of Pop Music and look at the more familiar music that came along during the years from 1950 to 1999.

1950s: The highest-ranking instrumental in any single year of the 1950s was the mambo “Cherry Pink & Apple Blossom White” by Perez Prado, which was the No. 1 record for 1955. The highest ranking instrumental for the decade as a whole was The Third Man Theme” by Anton Karas, 1950’s No. 3 record, which was No. 6 for the decade. Perez Prado’s record fell in at No. 10 on the decade list.

1960s: The highest-ranking instrumental in any single year of the 1960s was “The Theme From A Summer Place by Percy Faith & His Orchestra, which was the No. 1 single for all of 1960. When the Sixties ended almost ten years later, Faith’s record was the top-ranked instrumental for the decade, ranking second among all records during the 1960s to only the Beatles’ “Hey Jude.” (Paul Mauriat’s “Love Is Blue,” which I featured last week, was the No. 3 record in 1968 and the No. 12 record for the overall decade.)

1970s: According Whitburn, the highest-ranking instrumental in any single year of the 1970s is “Fly, Robin, Fly” by Silver Convention, the No. 2 record for all of 1975 (behind the Captain & Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together”). I might disagree with Whitburn’s classifying the record as an instrumental, as the record has words: “Fly, Robin, Fly/Up, up to the sky.” But given that the vocals are more of a chant than anything else (and that similar chant-like vocals show up in other records classified as instrumentals), I’d concede. As to the highest-ranking instrumental of the decade, I have to guess, as not one instrumental made the Top 40 records of the 1970s. My guess would be “Fly, Robin, Fly,” based on its three weeks at No. 1, a span of time no other instrumental matched during the decade. (Three instrumentals spent two weeks at No. 1 during the 1970s: “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)” by MFSB with the Three Degrees in 1974, “Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band” by Meco in 1977, and “Rise” by Herb Alpert in 1979.)

1980s: The decade was a grim one for instrumental hits. Only three instrumentals were listed among the four hundred records that comprise the ten annual Top 40 listings for the 1980s. Of those three, the highest ranking was “Chariots of Fire – Titles” by Vangelis, which was the No. 15 record for 1982. (The other two ranked instrumental were from 1985: “Miami Vice Theme: by Jan Hammer and “Axel F” by Harold Faltenmyer, which came in at Nos. 24 and 37, respectively, in that year’s final listing.) And, as was the case with the 1970s, no instrumental made the list of the decade’s Top 40 records. One has to think, given the year-by-year rankings mentioned above, that “Chariots of Fire – Titles” was the decade’s highest-ranked instrumental.

1990s: If the 1980s were a dismal time for instrumentals in the charts, I have no words at all to describe the 1990s. Only one instrumental single made any of the ten year-end Top 40 listings: “Theme from Mission: Impossible” by Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen of U2 ranked No. 39 for the year of 1996 and would, most likely, be the decade’s top instrumental. And that brings this exploration to a whimpering halt.

Note: The linked video for “Fly, Robin, Fly,” is of the album track; the single ran about two minutes shorter, but I don’t own the single, and the only good video of the single has some NSFW artwork. As to the other linked videos, I’m reasonably sure that the linked videos from the 1950s and 1960s feature the original singles, and I have no certainty at all about the music in the linked videos from the 1980 and 1990s.

Cosmic Marker? Or Just Another Day?

Friday, November 11th, 2011

Today’s date is, of course, irresistible: 11-11-11.

According to the soothsayers of one type or another out there, the confluence of all those identical digits either means that a lot of very good things or a lot of very bad things are going to happen. Today could find some regular dude in Artmart, Idaho, winning it big in the lottery, or else all those 1’s lining up might mean the universe has reached some long-awaited cosmic alignment and tomorrow – if there is a tomorrow – we’ll find ourselves either in eternal nothingness or an existence of peace, love and Melanie tunes.

I wouldn’t bet on any of those. After all, I’m writing this in the late morning. We’ve already had ten and a half hours here of the Day of the Elevens and everything looks to be okay outside my window. It’s already Saturday – 11-12 – in Manila, and there is no sign of either the apocalypse or the Age of Aquarius on Yahoo! News. It seems to be a perfectly normal day, one during which we wander out and take care of our business and then wander back toward home, thinking about indulging in a doughnut, some chocolate or maybe that bottle of cream stout that’s been waiting patiently at the back of the refrigerator for a month or two.

But it’s a regular day. After all, days like this come along eleven times a century, usually eleven years, one month and one day apart. About a decade into a new century, we get a cluster of four of them. Now, that’s not all 11’s, of course Just last October, we had 10-10-10. Last January, we rolled through 1-1-11. Next December, we’ll have 12-12-12. Then, in not quite ten years, we’ll get 2-2-22. After that, for the next seventy-seven years, we’ll get what I call jackpot dates every eleven years, one month and one day.

I don’t know that they have any significance at all, except that they might be more memorable simply because of the numbers. But I’m not even sure about that. I recall noting the confluence of the numbers on June 6, 1966. But I remember little else about the day. And I don’t recall even noting the passage of the date when similar days came past in 1977, 1988 and 1999. But thinking about those dates today gives me an excuse – as if I need one! – to dig into my library of the Billboard Hot 100 charts. We’ll start with 1955.

On May 5, 1955 – a date I have no chance of recalling, as I turned twenty months old that day – the No. 5 song was “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” by Fess Parker, who played the role of Crockett in the Disney television series that spawned the record (and so much more merchandise for the young’uns of the mid-1950s). That was the peak for Parker’s version of the tune; the version by Bill Hayes was sitting at No. 4, on its way down the chart after spending five weeks at No. 1. And that’s it for 1955, as the Billboard chart only included thirty records.

By June 6, 1966, the Billboard chart had gotten larger, and so had I. I was twelve, and I remember the day – a Monday, according to the perpetual calendar at timeanddate.com – as being one of those bright summer vacation days that we’d like to have last forever. But that and the fact that I noted the uniqueness of the date are all I remember. The No. 6 record that day was “Strangers in the Night” by Frank Sinatra, on its way to a one-week stay at No. 1. The No. 66 record was “Take Some Time Out for Love” by the Isley Brothers. The brothers’ follow-up to “This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak For You),” the record would go no higher, which is too bad, as it’s a good one.

I do not recall anything at all about July 7, 1977. It was a Thursday, which likely meant that I spent the day at St. Cloud State in a summer workshop for either newspaper production or 16mm film production. That was a full summer: I burned my hand badly, I broke up with my girlfriend of the time and – after spending some weeks with another young lady – got back together with her, and I played guitar and harmonica in an ensemble that performed a couple of times in a city park near the college campus, and I took three or four workshops. Any one of those things could have touched on July 7 that summer, but I cannot say for sure.

Sitting at No. 7 on 7-7-77 was the somewhat racy-for-its-time “Angel In Your Arms” by the trio from Los Angeles called Hot. The record was on its way up the chart and would advance one more slot, peaking at No. 6. Further down the chart, at No. 77, we find Leo Sayer with the awful “How Much Love” making its way up the chart to No. 17. (Believe me, if Sayer’s record had not been No. 77 on 7-7-77, there’s no way I would have featured it here.)

A little more than eleven years later, August 8, 1988, found me in Minot, North Dakota. I most likely spent the day at a phone bank on the third floor of an office building in downtown Minot, trying to supplement my college teacher’s salary by selling memberships to a health club. Whatever I did, I likely stayed home and listened to the radio that evening. The No. 8 record on 8-8-88 was “Monkey” by George Michael,which was on its way to a two-week stay at No. 1. It’s not one of my favorites. I quite like, however, the record that was sitting at No. 88: Belinda Carlisle’s cover of “I Feel Free.”  The song – written by Peter Brown and Jack Bruce – had been recorded and released as a single by Cream in 1967; that version bubbled under for one week at No. 116. Twenty-one years later, Carlisle’s cover would peak at the No. 88 spot where it sat on that day of eights.

And that’s all the further down the timeline we’re going to go today. The hits of 1999 don’t interest me much – I did look to see what they were – and, anyway, I have to go keep an eye on the cosmos just in case.

A Roundabout Appreciation Of Roger Williams

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

When I graduated from high school in 1971, my sister gave me an Alvarez acoustic guitar to replace the old second-hand instrument I’d been messing around with. And not long after that, I bought a songbook called 50 Sensational Songs for Guitar. I don’t know if the songs were truly sensational, but the book – for which I paid $2.50; this was 1971 – had a good collection of songs from many styles.

There was some traditional pop (“Misty” and “Sentimental Journey”), some Top 40 pop (“Dizzy” and “Sugar, Sugar”), some Broadway (“Applause” and “Hello, Dolly”), some Jimmy Webb tunes (“Wichita Lineman,” “Didn’t We” and more), some Burt Bacharach/Hal David stuff (“Do You Know The Way To San Jose” and more) and a lot of other stuff including four Beatles’ tunes, two of which now seem to be very odd choices: “Old Brown Shoe” and “Octopus’s Garden.”

(As I look at the book now, I realize that three of the Beatles’ tunes in the book were written by George Harrison and “Octopus’s Garden” was, of course, written by Ringo Starr. No tunes by Lennon and McCartney. I’d never noticed that before.)

I don’t know that I ever played any of the tunes in the songbook on guitar. I did play my guitar a lot in those days, sitting on the little bank on the north side of our house in the spring and summer evenings, practicing my own songs as I let my hands learn what they needed to do. But I found a use for the songbook anyway.

During my first two years of college, I took five quarters of music theory, every class St. Cloud State offered in the subject. And through those courses, I realized that I could use 50 Sensational Songs for Guitar, which offered melody lines and guitar chord charts, as a fakebook, making up my own arrangements of those songs. Among the songs that I learned to play that way was a tune that had originally been titled “Les Feuillies Mortes.”

I knew the song as “Autumn Leaves,” although I can’t specifically say how I knew it. I was just aware that I’d heard the song many times as a pop standard. I certainly didn’t recall the song from 1955, when it was a No. 1 hit for pianist Roger Williams.

“Autumn Leaves” was the first of thirty chart hits or near-hits hit for Williams, who passed on last week at the age of eighty-seven. (And I should note that my version of “Autumn Leaves” hews to the melody: I have never attempted those fantastic runs Williams plays, nor will I ever do so.) I see this morning in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles that Kapp Records re-released Williams’ version of “Autumn Leaves” in 1965, which is when I might have heard the tune; if that’s the case, I was one of the few, as the record peaked at No. 92. Many of Williams’ other single releases did better, but quite a few parked themselves in the lower portions of the chart. Nevertheless, Williams had singles in or near the Billboard Hot 100 every year but one (1964) from 1955 through 1969, with one more coming in 1972.

Williams’ second-biggest hit came when his cover of John Barry’s movie theme “Born Free” went to No. 7 (No. 5 on the chart now called Adult Contemporary) in December 1966. That’s probably the Williams record I recall the most, and I know I would have heard it – and liked it – on any of the radio stations I happened to hear at the time.

Even though he was on or near the charts during the 1960s, Williams’ better years had been the late 1950s, when he placed several records in the Top 40: “Wanting You” went to No. 38 in 1955; “La Mer (Beyond the Sea)” went to No. 37 in 1956; “Almost Paradise” went to No. 15 and “Till” went to No. 22 in 1957; and “Near You” went to No. 10 in 1958. After that, beyond “Born Free,” the closest Williams got to the Top 40 was in early 1962, when his cover of “Maria” from West Side Story went to No. 48.

My favorite Roger Williams piece, however, comes from 1980, when he teamed up with John Barry to record Barry’s “Theme from Somewhere In Time,” which closes the soundtrack album (and, I think, plays under the closing credits) of one of my favorite films. The track also showed up on Williams’ 1986 album, also titled Somewhere In Time. The record isn’t listed in Top Pop Singles; if it made any chart, it would’ve been the Adult Contemporary.

I know I’ve shared “Theme from Somewhere In Time” before, but it’s good enough to share again, and it provides an appropriate way to say farewell to Roger Williams.